“The guilty and the polluted fight. They deny. They struggle.”
-Inquisitor Gregor Eisenhorn
It always shocks me to see just how quickly Games Workshop sells out the good name of Warhammer when it comes to videogames. Sure, there have been some true winners out there, with plenty more to come, but the slew of garbage with Space Marine glued to the front is undeniably overwhelming. As a major fan of the 40k lore and universe as a whole, I found myself on the edge of my seat when I first heard about Eisenhorn:Xenos. Inspired by Dan Abnett’s 2001 novel of the same title (and arguably one of the best trilogies in the world), this game promised to offer a solid experience, even if it was just for mobile platforms.
Oh wait, it’s coming to PC too? Strap in, readers, this is going to get rough…
Set in the ever expansive 40k universe and following verbatim the words of Abnett, Eisenhorn:Xenos places players in the ceramite-clad shoes of Gregor Eisenhorn, an Inquisitorial Agent of the Emperor of mankind (glory to Him on his golden throne). Having landed on the icy planet of Hubris, Eisenhorn and his motley crew are tasked with hunting down a dangerous recidivist and saving the lives of the planetary nobles. Having achieved only one of those two goals in a laughably “screw it, I tried” fashion, Eisenhorn et al. uncover an insidious plot to overthrow the Emperor and must traverse across the stars to hunt down all forms of the archenemy scum. Without wanting to spoil what is already one of the best plots in the 40k universe (and possibly the only saving grace to this whole game), all I can say is that everything gets pretty FUBAR.
As I mentioned earlier with only thinly veiled disdain, Eisenhorn:Xenos started off as a game designed solely for the mobile platform. While they kept good on their promise and actually released to mobile devices, Pixel Hero Games decided they were far too proud of their work to not share it with the world of PC gamers via a sloppily converted port. What does this mean for PC gamers who want to get a taste of that Inquisitorial authority? Well, since you asked, a whole lot of contextual quick-time events, forced walking and waiting down endless halls, a horribly discordant psyker minigame, and combat that has less variety than the many different flavors of Fruit Loops (spoiler: Fruit Loops all taste the same).
Let’s go in reverse and start with the combat. Eisenhorn and certain members of his party can each sport a melee and ranged weapon. While the selection of different weapons and upgrades is varied enough and true to 40k lore, the combat itself is boiled down to auto aim for ranged attacks and button mashing “combos” (if you could hear the scorn dripping from that misnomer) for melee. You have a special psychic ability to launch people backwards and buy yourself some time, but the instant parrying and light-speed dodge roll makes this all but useless, even when taking on whole platoons of heretics. Oddly enough, there’s even a really bad rendition of Fallout’s V.A.T.S. aim assist feature, though why in the Emperor’s name you would use this is beyond even the most chaos-addled mind. Had you gone in naive of the game’s development, you’d still get the impression this was meant only for your tablet (or a brick).
Along with phoned-in combat mechanics, Eisenhorn:Xenos commits the capital sins of contextual time wasting and quick-time events. In what I can only assume was an effort to pad out the game as justification for a PC port, Eisenhorn sports dozens of massive, empty hallways, cathedrals, and mansions that the player is forced to walk through with the speed of a Sunday morning bowel movement. Along with these mandatory deathmarch strolls comes the ever present quick-time events. Whether you’re struggling to haul your fat, armored ass up onto a ledge, killing a giant monster (that would probably have been fun to actually fight), or opening a freaking door (which takes no less than THREE separate actions) QTEs are everywhere, and again speak to the game’s inherent mobile nature.
Though less of an offense, the psyker minigames scattered throughout each level are still an annoying nuisance. Gregor must occasionally use his Emperor-given abilities to mentally search an item for clues or turn the mind of a heretic for answers, and this involves a sequence of events that are uncannily similar to the planet-scanning feature on Mass Effect 2. This, coupled with the numerous hub world walkabouts throughout Gregor’s ship (at a speed described as breakneck by only the most paralyzed of snails) further pads the game out to a frankly ridiculous length.
If you’d gaze up to my second paragraph, you’d notice that I mentioned the storyline as the only saving grace, and while I stand by that statement as I stand by the Emperor, the fact of the matter is that Pixel Hero Games still managed to screw it all up. The masterfully crafted lines that Abnett undoubtedly slaved over lo those many years ago are bastardized by the wretched voice acting and absolutely abominable cutouts. With almost every cutscene, the audio of one or more of the speakers would drop out completely, only to be replaced by blank stares and utter silence. This, however, may have been the Emperor’s blessing in disguise, since every character except Gregor (voiced by the dreamy Mark Strong, which the developers are way too excited about) sounds like a racist who’ who of stereotypes.
The game’ visuals are decent for a mobile platform, and while I’m deeper into the 40k lore than you are into student debt, even the grandest spires and largest battle cruisers look like they were rendered in what I can only assume was Unreal’s first graphical engine. Textures take countable seconds to pop in, and the same six body animations are shared with every character. I know it’s too much to expect something on the level of The Witcher, but more times than not I thought I was looking at a pile of flesh tone play-dough rather than a stoic agent of the Imperium.